Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Things Half In Shadow


Author: Alan Finn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: e-book
Page Count (paperback): 448
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold Pocket Books
First Published: December 30, 2014
First Line: "When people mention Lenora Grimes Pastor, if they still speak of her at all, many insist that she was killed by a ghost."

Book Description from GoodReadsPostbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter. 

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy--the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes...a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten. 

Now a crime reporter for one of the city's largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city's most highly regarded--and by all accounts, legitimate--medium, who dies mid-seance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor. 

Blending historical detail with flights of fancy, "Things Half in Shadow" is a riveting thriller where "Medium" and "The Sixth Sense" meet "The Alienist"--and where nothing is quite as it seems...



My Review:  A sign of a good book is when you're engaged right from the beginning.  This happened for me with the debut novel, Things Half in Shadow.  I loved how the book opens with the foreword written by Edward 'at the behest' of his granddaughter who has quite the macabre disposition and love of ghost stories.  In order to please his granddaughter Edward writes down the ghost stories that he knows.  It's one of these ghost stories that makes up Things Half In Shadow which was a very atmospheric historical fiction, suspense, paranormal and mystery all blended into a really enjoyable read.

Finn writes about an era that I admittedly didn't know much about.  But he deftly brings the reader into life in post-Civil War Philadelphia and delves into the emotional waters of the PTSD that the soldiers faced.  He also focuses on the increase in spiritualism and people's desire for psychic intervention to 'reach' their lost loved ones after the war which I found fascinating.  It was a time of great loss and people reached out in many different ways to ease their pain and likewise there were many charlatans who were eager to take their money and give the answers they yearned for (sometimes using quite intricate means).  

Edward was an interesting character that I could get behind.  He's an independently wealthy crime reporter for one of the local Philadelphia newspapers which gives him ample reasons for further exploits.  He's a rather quiet leading man but it's his hidden identity and his family background made him quite compelling as a main character.  He has a lot on his plate with trying to maintain his relationship with a society debutante while being thrust into an uncomfortable assignment and being forced to deal with a woman he finds quite detestable.  But it's this bantering with Mrs Lucy Collins, the detestable woman aforementioned, which was refreshing and brought a levity and an energy to the book.  She was a great balance to Edward's more subdued character making her my favourite character in the book. Her energy and humour reminds me of Lady Julia Grey (Deanna Raybourne's heroine) which made her easy to adore.  She was feisty, stubborn, forthright, funny and doesn't apologize for what she does to make a living.  

There is a romance angle in the book but it was thankfully not overdone.  But it was also easily foreseeable too.  It's not that I'm knocking the way it was done because I did, for the most part, enjoy that aspect but it was a little to predictable for my liking.

This was a very impressive debut novel.  Finn has an enjoyable writing style and a gift for putting his readers into the mindset and atmosphere of the post Civil War era with great ease.  This is a great stand-alone read but it also opens the door for further exploits for Edward and Lucy which I am most eager to read.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Disclaimer

Author: Renee Knight
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Hardcover Page Count: 304
Publisher: Doubleday
First Published: April 9, 2015
First Line: "Catherine braces herself, but there is nothing left to come up."

Book Description from GoodReadsFinding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction,The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.
 


My Review:  Hype.  I hate hype because it, more often than not, gives me such high expectations of a book only to have them dashed.  Disclaimer is one of those books (a la Gone Girl) that has a lot of buzz surrounding it.  It also has a great premise which is why I decided to ignore the hype and pick it up anyway.  The story is this: imagine being mysteriously given a book and when you read it you find that your biggest secret is revealed within the story. Someone knows the skeletons in your closet but you don't know who it is.

That's the premise of Disclaimer and as the story progresses the reader gets to slowly learn the big secret Catherine's has been hiding for so many years.  This book is touted as a suspense read but I'd have to say that it's more of a mystery with a twist.  There just wasn't that much 'edge of your seat' suspense or a fast pace that I was expecting.  

I also never truly got engaged with the characters.  That's a big thing for me.  Huge.  I don't have to love everything the main characters do but every character in this book fell flat and I just didn't care about them.  Any of them.  It also took quite awhile for me to be engaged in the story.  I'd read a bit, put the book down for a day then pick it up again to read a bit more. It just didn't grab me.

There was a twist towards the end of the book that I didn't predict but I didn't feel that the lead up to the big reveal justified it.  It felt a little lackluster after wondering for so long about Catherine's big secret.  But the twist was able to propel the story in a different way and made me view a certain character in a different light so that was a plus. 

I wish there was more energy infused throughout the story and the characters.  I wanted to lose myself in the story but found myself, more often than not, checking how far along I've read in the hopes that things would pick up.  There are a lot of people who loved this book but in the end, it just wasn't for me. 

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta Casserole

Happy 1000th blog post to me!!!  And a HUGE thanks to all of you who follow along and take the time out of your day to read my book reviews, recipes and general banter.  I appreciate you, I truly do!

I've been in a casserole slump lately.  I've lost my 'get up and go' when it comes to thinking up casseroles and I blame my kids.  I adore my small humans but they occasionally stress me out because a few (and sometimes all) don't like different foods touching (depending on the dish).  Ya, I know.  Crazy.  Apparently food touching in tacos, subs and pizza are okay but casseroles with pasta, cheese and meat is just ca-razy to them.  Say wha?

But Brad and I want leftovers to take for lunches at work so we are, as you say, at an impasse.  In order to solve this dilemma I've instituted the 'eat it or starve' mentality because I don't have the desire to keep track of who likes what, nor am I a restaurant and, in the end, I don't like to cater to picky palates.  

But I'm not a total culinary ogre so I thought I'd meet the kids halfway.  Like many kids, my kids love burgers, bacon and cheese.  It's the Mom's Dinner Menu Hat trick.  With a little time to ponder the beauty of these three ingredients I came up with the Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta Casserole.

I adore a smokey BBQ sauce and with the ground beef it resembles a Sloppy Joe enough to get most of my kids on board.  Paired with a Caesar salad and this was an easy to make, mid-week meal with the bonus of leftovers for lunches for Brad and I the next day.  Score one for Mom!



1lb ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 1/2 cups fusilli noodles
1 tbsp oil
1 cup real bacon bits (or 4 slices of bacon cooked and chopped)
1 can condensed tomato soup
1/2 soup can of water
1/3 cup smokey BBQ sauce
1 1/2 tsp mustard
1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated and divided

In a large skillet cook beef and onions until beef is no longer pink and onions are translucent.  

Meanwhile, in a large pot cook the noodles according to package instructions until they are al dente.  Drain and immediately rinse and sprinkle with some oil to prevent them from sticking together.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine bacon bits, soup, water, BBQ sauce and mustard.  Mix well.

In a large bowl, combine beef mixture, noodles, the bacon bits mixture and half of the Cheddar cheese.  Gently mix.  Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes.  Serve immediately with a green salad and crusty bread.  Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.  The leftovers reheat really well.


Yield: 4-5 servings

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finding Jake


Author: Bryan Reardon
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: February 24, 2015
First Line: "My name is Simon Connolly."

Book Description from GoodReadsA heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting story of psychological suspense in which a parent is forced to confront what he does—and does not—know about his teenage son, in the vein of Reconstructing Amelia, Defending Jacob, and We Need to Talk about Kevin.

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn't. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school. 

Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn't really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?

Brilliantly paced, Finding Jake explores these questions in a tense and emotionally wrenching narrative. Harrowing and heartbreaking, surprisingly healing and redemptive, Finding Jake is a story of faith and conviction, strength, courage, and love that will leave readers questioning their own lives, and those they think they know.



My Review:  The premise of this book is what hooked me - suspense, a family and community in turmoil, emotional reactions ...  Sounds like a great read but it fell flat for me in a few areas.

The book focuses around Jake's dad, Simon as he tries to piece together what has happened to his son and how his son's life may have gotten so off course.  Simon's wife and daughter were unfortunately relegated to the outer edges of the story with no character development to speak of.  It was the Simon show.  I found this odd since getting different views of Jake would have helped me get more involved in the story. 

Unfortunately Simon, as the main character, got on my nerves pretty fast.  As a parent we often question our choices while raising our kids.  I get that, believe me, I do.  But Simon is neurotic and so insecure as a parent that he blames every issue that his kids have (especially Jake) on something he did as a parent.  Should he have forced his son to play with neighbourhood kids? Did he give his kids sippy cups too early so now they won't get into an Ivy League school? Okay, that didn't happen but that's the overall feel I got from him. 

While Simon did have valid (to a point) concerns about parenting I think that his concerns were made so big that they were unbelievable, felt unwarranted and became the focus of the book instead of the suspense of finding Jake.  This constant insecurity hindered me from getting behind Simon as a main character plus the author also made Simon's choice of being a stay-at-home dad such a big deal as if it is unheard of in this day and age and I wasn't quite sure why.

The premise of the book was about finding Jake and figuring out what happened to him was good - just not not overly unique.  There was one moment that gave me a lump in my throat and the author did a good job of jumping back and forth from present to past to tell the story.  Unfortunately I often felt the forays into the past were sluggish at best and I wanted to learn more about what was happening to Jake in the present.  Overall, the writing was decent but the pace was too slow and the suspense, for the most part, just wasn't there for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Thursday, May 7, 2015

At The Water's Edge

Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Pages in Hardcover: 368
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
First Published: March 31, 2015
First Line: 'The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being one of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty.'

Book Description from GoodReadsIn her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.


My Review:  There were a few things that drew me to this book -- WWII fiction and it is set in Scotland (swoon).  But I never would have imagined combining a WWII romance and ... Nessie (yes, of Loch Ness Monster fame).   One would think that a sea creature of the deep would negatively influence the romantic element or take away from the horror of war but it worked.  It really did.  And if I'm being honest, I also wanted to give the author another chance because I'm the one person who didn't love Water for Elephants.  Yup, that was me.

I am thrilled that I gave this book a shot.  It has a lot going on but it works.  Gruen paints a clear picture of what life was like in Scotland during the war - the restrictions, food rationing, air raids and fear were all well described.  enjoyed the book even though the Nessie story line takes much more of a back seat than I was hoping for. Instead the book focuses on Maddie's personal relationships and settling into their spartan digs in rural Scotland during the war. I was glad that I found Gruen's characters were much more vibrant and believable this time around.  The addition of the secondary characters - Meg, Anna and Angus - were a breath of fresh air and balanced out the main characters' strong personalities.  

Maddie was a good main character.  She was easy to root for especially as the reader learns more about her upbringing and her marriage.  In the beginning Maddie was a little flat for me but as she goes through some self-reflection about what she wants in life and learns to stand up for herself I began to like her.

Ellis and Hank were another story.  I found them a little too cliched and just so easy to hate.  Hank may have had a moment or two where some human qualities shone through but Ellis had no redeeming qualities at all.  I actually started to think of Ellis and Hank as a much nastier version of Niles Crane (of Frasier fame).  Picture a much more pompous, spoiled, insipid and self-righteous Niles and you have a picture of Hank and Ellis. 

There is a wee romance in the book too but unfortunately I found it a little rushed and predictable.  That said, it was nice to see love bloom in the craziness of war and the epilogue was a nice touch to bring the story full circle.

While I enjoyed this book I did find the ending a little odd and predictable as well.  I wasn't sure that I liked the mystical twist but when you're dealing with Nessie I suppose anything can happen and in the end it was a satisfying ending for a very unique book. While some of the characters are a bit eccentric the majority are well drawn and believable.  And though the monsters - both real and imagined - take a back seat to Maddie's self-discovery, in the end I would say that I enjoyed this 'Gothic, historical romance with a twist' and had a hard time putting it down once I got into it.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of At The Water's Edge in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Carrabba's Sausage and Lentil Soup

I know that I've talked about my love of Carrabba's - a small Italian restaurant chain that my family and I love going to when we visit my parental units in Fort Myers, Florida.  It has a wonderfully cozy feel to it even though it's always busy.  Great service and even better food is why we always head there on vacation.  Seriously.  It was my main go-to stop on our last visit.

A couple of months ago we were in Florida and doing our requisite stop at Carrabba's and my dad (the self-proclaimed connoisseur of Carrabba's) said to try their Sausage and Lentil Soup.  It ... was ... fantastic.  The flavours were amazing together but beware that the spiciness of this soup sneak up on you. 

Over Easter one of my sisters made a batch at home and I knew it was time to give it a go myself.  Oh man!  This was sooo good!  I made it (along with a loaf of Caraway Rye Bread) and I loved it just as much as Carrabba's. I chose to puree some of the soup to give it a thicker texture but if you want a more traditional soup go ahead and leave that part out.  I now have a few servings of this soup in the freezer for those nights when I want a taste of Italian ... or Fort Myers.  


2 tsp oil
1 lb Italian sausage - remove casing
1 large onion - diced
2 celery stalks - diced
2 large carrots - sliced
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 (14.5oz) cans of diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves - minced
1 tsp salt
2 cups dry, red lentils - rinsed well
1 small zucchini - sliced
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4-1/2 tsp dry red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup real cooked bacon bits
3 tsp fresh lemon juice

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat, add oil and sausage.  As sausage cooks, chop it into bite-sized pieces. Cook until no longer pink. Add onion, celery, carrots, broth, water, tomatoes, garlic, salt and lentils.  Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are soft.

** If the soup doesn't have enough liquid (the lentils suck up quite a bit) just add some more water as you go. **

After the soup has been simmering for about an hour, add the zucchini, spices, real bacon bits and lemon juice.  Simmer for 1/2 hour more.  If you desire a thicker soup like me, remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the soup to a bowl and, using a hand blender, puree it.  Return it to the original pot.

Serve with a green salad, crusty bread and, if desired, garnish with Parmesan cheese (or additional dried red pepper flakes - if you love the heat).

Source: Inspired by my sister, Jennifer's creation and http://www.food.com/recipe/carrabbas-sausage-and-lentil-soup-162864


Monday, May 4, 2015

The Precious One


Author: Marisa de los Santos
Genre: Women's Fiction, Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcopy
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 352
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: March 24, 2015
First Line: "If I hadn't been alone in the house; if it hadn't been early morning, with that specific kind of fuzzy, early morning quiet and a sky the color of moonstones and raspberry jam outside my kitchen window; if I had gotten further than two sips of my bowl-sized mug of coffee; if he himself hadn't called but had sent a message via one of his usual minions; if his voice had been his voice and not a dried up flimsy paring off the big golden apple of his baritone; if he hadn't said "please", if it had been a different hour in a different day entirely, maybe -- just maybe -- I would have turned him down."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary — professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter Willow only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister — a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices — Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings — The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.
 


My Review: While it's been many years since I've picked up a book by de los Santos I still remember being utterly enthralled by her characters and plot in her previous Loved Walked In and Belong To Me.  I was captivated by her characters.  The Precious One is her new novel and with it comes some interesting characters.

The Precious One focuses on dysfunctional relationships and it engaged me pretty much throughout.  De los Santos takes on many relationship dynamics - parent/child, step-parent/step-child, first love, sibling relationships and even a very 'icky' one that I won't reveal.  It is narrated by sisters Taisy and Willow who each have their own unique voices but I wouldn't say it was as 'hard to put down' as her earlier books.  In fact, I'd say it was a little predictable - not so much that it bugged me but I wasn't shocked by the ending either. That said, there's a lot going on which held my interest and sensitive issues are at the forefront including an extremely dysfunctional blended family headed by Wilson, the patriarch.

Oh Wilson!  He was an easy character to hate.  He had a whole heap load of flaws, especially when dealing with his first family but also how he insisted on raising Willow. His lack of redeeming qualities (except perhaps his love for Willow and his wife) made him easy to hate.  He played the over-bearing father well but he had so many of these overpowering, self-centred tendencies that he became a caricature of the 'tyrant dad'.  I liked seeing how and why he became that way but would have loved to have gotten even more insight into his past through his eyes and the eyes of his sibling.  I felt like there was a lot more to his story that the reader wasn't privy to.

I definitely enjoyed this book and would chalk it up to a comfortable, easy read.  Sure, it engaged me and was perfect to curl up with but it wasn't quite up to par with her two earlier works that I adored.  Still it was an entertaining read and perfect for some down time in the summer.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Bullet

Author: Mary Louise Kelly
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: March 17, 2015
First Line: "My name is Caroline Cashion and I'm the unlikely heroine of this story."

Book Description from GoodReadsCaroline Cashion, a professor of French literature at Georgetown University, is stunned when an MRI reveals that she has a bullet lodged near the base of her skull. It makes no sense: she has never been shot. She has no entry wound. No scar. When she confronts her parents, they initially profess bewilderment. Then, over the course of one awful evening, she learns the truth: she was adopted when she was three years old, after her real parents were murdered in cold blood. Caroline had been there the night of the attack, and she was hit by a single gunshot to the neck. Buried too deep among vital nerves and blood vessels, the surgeons had left it, and stitched up the traumatized little girl with the bullet still inside. 

That was thirty-four years ago.

Now, Caroline returns to her hometown to learn whatever she can about who her parents were and why they died. Along the way she meets a cop who worked the case, who reveals that even after all these years, the police do not have enough evidence to nail their suspect. The killer is still at large. Caroline is in danger: the bullet in her neck could identify the murderer, and he'll do anything to keep it out of the police hands. Now Caroline will have to decide: run for her life, or stay and fight?


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  The wonderfully intriguing premise is what got me to request this book immediately.  A woman not only finds out that she was adopted but learns that she has had a bullet in her neck since the age of three and doesn't remember ever getting shot nor does she have a scar?  Tell me more.

This novel is by Mary Louise Kelly, a former journalist, and while the premise was great I think that the execution needed a little work.  What I loved were the short chapters and the suspense of who the murderer was kept me reading for the first half of the book.  There's one action scene that I finished and I'm pretty sure I didn't have any fingernails left but overall I think the book lacked the tension I was expecting for a suspense read.

Caroline was an okay main character.  Her predicament put her in an unusual situation but overall I can't say that she's a character that will stay with me.  She's a smart woman, a university professor no less, but after learning she's adopted and the reason why she was adopted she suddenly becomes very erratic and makes some potentially dangerous choices.  Knowing that the bullet could put the murderer away why would you tell your story repeatedly to a newspaper?  Why wouldn't you set your security alarm on your house if you think you're in danger?  It just didn't sit well with me and made Caroline come off as silly.

I'm also not a fan of suspense reads who slip in a romance 'just cuz' and that's what Caroline's romance felt like.  It happened too suddenly for me could have been left out all together without hindering the main story line.

Overall, this was a decent read.  There were some good moments and some twists that I didn't see coming.  I enjoyed the beginning of the book and the build-up but in the last half of the book my interest started to wane a bit and unfortunately I didn't find it nearly as compelling as I was hoping.  This was a decent suspense novel and I'm intrigued to see what her future books will be like.  I think this would be a good book for people who enjoy lighter suspense reads.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, April 27, 2015

Red Queen

Author: Victoria Aveyard
Genre: Teen, Fantasy
Type: Hardcover
Series: 1st book in the Red Queen series
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 320
Publisher: Orion
First Published: February 10, 2015
First Line: "I hate First Friday."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?



My Review:  I admittedly have gotten a little blase about YA dystopian books because I went through a period of reading too many of them in a short space of time.  But after again being strongly encouraged by a 17 year old Shelver at the library where I work (she's given some great recommendations in the past) I decided to try Red Queen.  I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed it. 

Readers of the YA dystopian genre will definitely see some similar themes from other popular series.  There's strong similarities to The Hunger Games and Red Rising and a little Divergent thrown in for good measure.  That said, Red Queen held its own and gave its unique twist on a the blood feud, fighting thang.

Red Queen is set in a world where a person's blood type (either red or silver) determines their status in society with the silver blooded Royals holding all of the power.  The Royals each have a unique power which could include being able to control metal, speed, reading minds, control water or air etc as long as their element is near them to manipulate.  Then there's the lowly red blooded population who are used as soldiers and workers to pad the coffers of the Silvers.  It doesn't make for a happy society.

The main character, Mare is a Red whose only future is to be conscripted into the army to fight an on-going 100 year war with a neighbouring country.  When her best friend Kilhorn is going to be conscripted she takes a risk in order to save him but suddenly she finds herself thrown into the world of the Silvers.  When knowledge of her unique powers surfaces (which is even a surprise to Mare) it throws a wrench in the Royals' plans who will do anything to keep this information from reaching the masses especially as a new rebellion is brewing with the Scarlet Guard at the helm.

This was a book that pretty much grabbed me from the beginning but there were, admittedly, some inconsistencies and situations that didn't sit well with me.  For example, I had to wonder why these Silvers didn't just use their awesome powers to end this long running war. Why use Reds as soldiers who die easily when you could read the minds of the other army and annihilate them by sending a cyclone or drowning the lot of them?  And if I'm being picky I truly hated Maven's name.  It sounded so feminine that I had a hard time picturing him in a romantic way with one of the female characters.  It may be a petty comment but it really did distract me and when the author has carte blanche to choose names I just wonder why she chose that one.

If you let these inconsistencies take over you may not enjoy the book.  I chose to go with the flow and read the book for what it was - a good story with some strong, memorable characters and good twists.  Mare is a solid main character with a strong sense of right and wrong so it was easy to get behind her.  There is a romantic element to the story and even a love triangle (possibly a quadrangle) of sorts but it isn't the focus of the story and I liked that the action took the front seat for this first book. There were also a few twists -- some I saw coming and others I was happily surprised to read - that kept the pace of this book steady.  The last quarter of the book is filled with action and for those who are a bit squeamish there are quite a few rather violent actions scenes.

Overall, I really enjoyed this debut novel. While it borrows some themes from other popular YA books it definitely stands on it's own with it's unique twists and plot.  With a major cliffhanger at the end of this first book in the series you'll want to pick up the next book.  And, you have to admit, it's got a great cover.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Skylark


Author: Ruthie Morgan
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Print Length: 449 pages
Source: directly from author
Publisher: Ruthie Morgan
First Published: July 2014
First Line: "The keyboard gleams as she poises herself on the edge of the seat, hands hovering, ready to transcribe the key paragraph she knows must come soon."

Book Description from GoodReads"When he asked me to forgive him for everything I thought I could. I said yes and I meant it. But I didn't realise that night, everything was what he'd take away." When Billie May Worthington falls for Evan Skylark she believes she'd do anything, be anything and give everything for him. But can she forgive him when he asks for her world? 

Everything twenty one year old Billie knows about life, love, beauty and art are challenged after graduation when she meets Evan, an enigmatic Irish artist with a dark side. Suddenly immersed in Evan's intense world of artistic brilliance, flying sculptures and sexual obsession, Billie's carefully planned future is quickly unrecognisable. Spanning London, Paris, Scotland and finally St. Cloud, the South Pacific island they make their home, the young couple chase Evans dreams and run from their past. But what happens to young obsessive love when unplanned pregnancy reshapes the future? As Billie struggles to cope with the demands of motherhood Evan is forced to deal with the repercussions of a previous mistake that rock their world altering the future forever. 

Emotionally gripping and darkly humorous Skylark is an unconventional love story. A novel about what we do for love, of beauty in imperfection, betrayal and the weight of obsession.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Ruthie Morgan for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  My devoted blog readers know that I am not a big romance reader. I have a heart (trust me) but in the past I've found the books that I've read from this genre brimming with one-dimensional, unbelievable characters with their cheesy, raunchy love life put well before the plot.  

Thankfully author Ruthie Morgan has written a very different kind of romance novel.

This is Morgan's first book and it is impressive. Her wonderful humour shines through in the dialogue and her prose struck me immediately as being much more developed and engaging than I would expect for a first time author.  But it's her detailed and intricate characters that hooked me.

Billie and Evan were so believably human -- love, flaws, demons and all. What impressed me was that there were several aspects of both of them that I loved and others that I absolutely hated.  You know you're sucked into a story when you want to shake the character for making such a stupid decision.  It was sad and frustrating to see how much Billie sacrificed to be with Evan.  How she continued to give and wait for him only to be repeatedly let down.  It was all cut and dry for me until we start to see Evan's side of things.  

I didn't like Evan.  He's not someone who'd I'd be drawn to personally.  Sure he's enigmatic and devoted to Billie (in his own way) but his actions spoke louder to me.  I thought he was self-centred, dark, volatile, moody and an absentee husband and father.  I hated many of his choices but, as the book progressed, I also saw how and why he came to make those decisions.  He was a tormented soul and I felt for him and even found myself supporting his side during some marital spats.  I wasn't expecting that. 

Not surprisingly I easily related to Billie as a mother.  Her need to connect with others, her fears of being able to raise her children well and the time, emotion and energy it takes to care for young children.  I felt bad that she was so alone in her marriage and, if I'm being honest, many times throughout the book I wanted her to take the kids and leave Evan.  But she also had her own issues to deal with and some of her decisions I didn't like. I wanted her to be stronger. I wanted her to stand up to Evan and not give in just because she loved him. I wanted her to stop enabling him and get him the help he so obviously needed.  

I'm impressed that Moran got me to see both sides of Billie and Evan.  She was able to balance the good and bad aspects of both of them and make me support each of them at different points in the story.  Their love was imperfect, messy and very complicated but you got the sense that it was real.  As with many romances there were several sex scenes in the book and instead of being written for shock/raunchiness (aka the 'Fifty Shades Factor') they instead show the deep connection and tenderness between Billie and Evan.

Even the secondary characters and the vivid descriptions of St Cloud were well fleshed out and vividly described.  You felt like you could easily imagine a typical day on the island.  No one (except perhaps for a spectacularly evil woman) is one-dimensional.  They all felt authentic and added to the story line and sense of community on St Cloud.

The only beef I had with the book (and it's but a wee 'moo') was that in a few spots I felt like the pace got a little bogged down in the details.  I found myself wanting to get back to the story instead of hearing about life on a Scottish farm or what songs everyone sang at karoke.  But again, these lags were far and few between.

Towards the end, Morgan kept me on the edge of my seat wondering how I wanted it to end.  Did I want Billie and Evan's relationship to self-destruct so Billie could move on?  Did I want them to stick it out?  In the end, I was surprisingly happy and sad with how things ended.

Skylark is a modern love story about two people whose love began quickly. Unfortunately they weren't ready for what life was going to throw at them nor the consequences of their actions. It is a realistic, romantic and tragic love story.  

It's emotional, raw and I loved it.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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